Luke Rowe said he "hit a wall" on the first big climb of stage 11 of the Tour de France 2021, despite feeling good early on in the stage.
The Welshman was riding on the front of the peloton and held his own on the early climbs but the first major ascent of the day saw the start of his struggles. The Ineos Grenadiers rider got to the finish in Malaucène around five minutes after the time cut, making him the only rider to miss it.
Speaking in a video put out by his team before heading to the airport, Rowe spoke of his disappointment in leaving the race.
"It’s a cruel sport and that’s the reality of it sometimes," Rowe said. "It was a solid start, there were a lot of attacks to go into the breakaway. Felt alright throughout the day, as moves were going guys were getting dropped and I felt like I held my own a little bit in the early stages."
The stage's main breakaway took a long time to get away with riders struggling on the early climbs and creating a grupetto very early on. Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) held on from the break to take the stage win, despite Ineos working hard in the peloton.
"The plan from the outset was to try and take it on," Rowe continued. "First time we’ve done that in this race to take it on and try and go for the stage or try and move up in the GC.
"We didn’t get the stage but ‘Billy’ [Richard Carapaz] ended up moving up a place in GC. So I started to ride like I’ve done 100 times before.
"At that point, I was feeling okay, felt solid and we hit the early slopes of the first big categorised climb and it was like I hit the wall. The lights went out. Just like someone had flicked a switch."
The first major climb of the day was the category one climb of the Col de la Liguière, just under 10km at an average gradient of 6.4 per cent, a tough test ahead of two ascents of Mont Ventoux, especially after riding on the front for the whole first part of the stage.
Rowe added: "Guys who I, to be honest, would usually out-climb relatively easily were leaving me for dead. Over 100km to go and I was on my own.
"I never lost the belief that I could arrive at the finish within the time limit but I missed it by five minutes or so. Just gutted really. It’s tough and it’s the first time in my career that I’ve missed the time cut. What a race to do it in."
Rowe is not the first rider to leave the race from missing the time cut; Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ) and Bryan Coquard (B&B Hotels) were both unable to make the time cut on stage nine to the summit finish in Tignes.
"So it’s gutting. It’s going to be hard to just be leaving the guys really," Rowe said. "Leaving it down to the seven boys and leaving them with me buggering off home. It’s tough but I think I’m leaving them in a good place.
"We moved up into fourth in the GC today so the Tour is a long way from being over."
We’re gonna miss him. Here’s @LukeRowe1990’s honest account of a brutal day at the Tour.He’ll be back 👊 #TDF2021 pic.twitter.com/Wmb5o3Sjg5July 7, 2021
Carapaz did move up to fourth but he is still 5-33 behind yellow jersey, Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates). However, the Slovenian race leader did show a small crack on the final ascent of Mont Ventoux where Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) managed to drop him, but the descent saved him and the top four, including Rigoberto Urán (EF-Nippo) came to the line together.
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